CRIVITZ, Wis. (WFRV) – School districts across the country and state are facing teaching shortages.
Green Bay Area Public Schools and Oshkosh Area School District both held job fairs just weeks before the start of the school year. Wautoma Area School District’s shortages are forcing their staff members to take on extra responsibility.
Crivitz School District is not immune to the shortage, but teachers there feel that it might have a suppressant for it: its new “Mentor Academy” program that has veteran teachers meeting monthly with teachers in their first three years.
“There’s such a teacher shortage, we had to do something to try to retain staff, we had to do something to try to support them,” 3rd-grade teacher Missy Gruszynski said. “Now, having this big mentor academy, this big group, it’s working out wonderfully. They can see different strategies from different teachers.”
Gruszynski has been teaching for 27 years, 22 spent at Crivitz, where she and her children went, and put her experience to use when she decided to volunteer for the “Mentor Academy,” which was created in the spring.
The group, led by Gruszynski and five other veteran teachers, meets monthly to discuss strategies related to classroom management, behavioral issues, parent communication, and teaching techniques.
“Kids are changing as life is changing, so there’s more behaviors and different dynamics,” Gruszynski said.
She cited increased technology use and the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic as creating problematic behaviors in children.
“More students want immediate attention, immediate rewards, sometimes just running out of the classroom,” she said. “It can push people away from teaching.”
Julie Bushmaker, another mentor in the program, has been teaching in the district for 37 years and has 6th grade this year.
“I think new teachers need to have somewhere they have things to follow because you want them to be comfortable and know who they can count on,” she said.
Crystal Dorschner is in her first year of teaching and was assigned to kindergarten. She said that when she was looking at different school districts to teach at, some others have mentoring programs, but none have mentoring groups with multiple mentors.
“Having so many mentors, you just have so much more information that’s accessible to you through so many different teachers,” she said.
Dorschner and her colleagues believe that the program can be implemented at other districts to help improve their retention rates.
Julie Thorsen, a 3rd-grade teacher at Crivitz who is also a mentor in the program, has been teaching for 24 years and said that the benefit of having more people, mentees included, contribute to conversations about having a better classroom environment is that it gives teachers options of different ideas to implement.
“Sometimes it’s useful for them, and sometimes it doesn’t always work in their classrooms, but it’s nice for them to have options,” she said. “I appreciate when they ask me to come in their room or when they come into my room to see how I do things.”
In addition to the monthly meetings, the district administration is flexible to allow teachers to shadow others if they want to see how a lesson is taught or how someone’s classroom dynamic operates, and this allows the veteran teachers to learn from the newer staff members, too.
“I know that they feel at ease with us, we’re not there to judge, we’re there to help,” Thorsen said. “Lots of times the things that they’re questioning or wondering about are the same things that we’re working on in our classrooms. So it’s not so far off for a veteran and first year teacher to have the same difficulties in their classrooms.”
The “Mentor Academy” is not just improving classroom environments, it is improving the workplace environment as a whole, 1st-grade teacher Tina Bonikowske said, who is in her third year of teaching at Crivitz.
“I love the camaraderie between everybody, it’s just a really great place to be,” she said. “Everyone’s so positive, and you just get together and get ideas you never even thought about before.”